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Thomas Kean

Former Governor Kean, in 2004

In office
January 19, 1982 – January 16, 1990
Preceded by Brendan Byrne
Succeeded by James Florio

Born April 21, 1935 (1935-04-21) (age 74)
New York City, New York
Birth name Thomas Howard Kean
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Deborah Kean
Religion Episcopalian

Thomas Howard Kean (pronounced /keɪn/;[1] born April 21, 1935) is an American Republican Party politician, who served as the 48th Governor of New Jersey, from 1982 to 1990. Kean is best known globally, however, for his 2002 appointment as Chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, widely known as the 9/11 Commission, which was responsible for investigating the causes of the September 11, 2001 attacks and providing recommendations to prevent future terrorist attacks. He was appointed to this post by U.S. President George W. Bush. Upon the completion of his second term as Governor, he served as the president of Drew University for 15 years, until his retirement in 2005.


Early life and education

Kean was born in New York City to a long line of New Jersey politicians. His mother was Elizabeth Howard and his father, Robert Kean, was a U.S. Representative. His grandfather Hamilton Fish Kean and great-uncle John Kean both served as U.S. Senators. His second great-uncle was Hamilton Fish, a U.S. Senator, governor of New York, and Secretary of State. Kean's second great-grandfather was a delegate to the Continental Congress.

Kean was initially educated at The Potomac School in Washington, D.C. When he reached the fourth grade, he entered St. Albans School. His parents then enrolled him at St. Mark's School in Southborough, Massachusetts, the alma mater of his father and two older brothers.[2] After graduating from St. Mark's, he attended Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey and Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City.

New Jersey political career

Originally a teacher of history and government, Kean was elected, in 1967, as a Republican to the New Jersey General Assembly.

At the start of the Assembly session in 1972, Democratic leadership had wanted to name S. Howard Woodson of Trenton as Speaker, until Assemblyman David Friedland made a deal as one of four Democrats who voted to give the minority Republicans control of the General Assembly, electing Kean as Assembly Speaker. Woodson would have been the Assembly's first African American Speaker, and charges of racism were leveled by fellow Democrats against Friedland.[3] In the next Assembly, in 1974, the Democrats united behind Woodson for Speaker; Kean then became the minority leader of the Assembly. In 1973, he briefly served as acting New Jersey Governor.


1977 gubernatorial loss

Governor Kean visiting Fort Dix, November 1987.

In 1977, Kean ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for the governor of New Jersey. Although he spent most of his career as a political moderate, in this race Kean ran to the right of New Jersey Senate Minority Leader Raymond Bateman. Bateman defeated Kean and won the nomination, though Bateman went on to lose the general election to Brendan Byrne.

1981 gubernatorial victory and 1985 re-election

Kean fared better four years later, in 1981, when he again ran for Governor. He defeated U.S. Representative James Florio in the closest election in New Jersey gubernatorial election history; Kean won by fewer than 1,800 votes. The election was controversial, due to the involvement of the Republican National Committee, who appointed a Ballot Security Task Force, allegedly to intimidate voters.[4][5][6]

Kean proved hugely popular in office. In striking contrast to his slim 1981 victory, he won re-election in 1985 with the largest margin of victory in the history of New Jersey gubernatorial races, defeating Peter Shapiro, then Essex County Executive, 71%-24%.[7] Kean won every municipality in the state except Audubon Park and Chesilhurst in Camden County and Roosevelt in Monmouth County.[8]

1988 Republican Convention speech

In 1988, reflecting his stature as an up-and-coming leader of the Republican Party's moderate wing, Kean delivered the keynote speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans. The same year, he also authored a book, The Politics of Inclusion, published by Free Press, which urged political cooperation among historically divided interest groups and politicians.

Gubernatorial legacy

Limited to two consecutive terms as governor by the New Jersey State Constitution, Kean left office in January, 1990 as one of the most popular political figures in New Jersey political history. Former New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Doug Forrester, New Jersey Congressman Bob Franks, and other leading New Jersey and national Republican figures began their political and public policy careers in his state administration. He was succeeded by Florio, who won a landslide victory in November 1989.

Drew University

Following the end of his second Gubernatorial term, Kean was named President of Drew University, a small liberal arts university in Madison, New Jersey. Kean's considerable standing as a popular former governor of the state was helpful as he undertook an upgrading of the university's campus and academic programs. Extremely popular among the student body, Kean served as Drew's President until 2005.

National policy leadership

Involvement beginning in 1990

While leading Drew University, Kean also continued to expand his role as a national political leader, forging close working relationships with the administrations of George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton (with whom he had worked closely in the National Governors Association) and George W. Bush, who saw Kean as an important national political ally.

Former Heritage Foundation foreign policy analyst Michael Johns and other national policy and political leaders were recruited by Kean to support and help administer his growing involvement in a broad range of national policy initiatives in the fields of education, environmental, low-income housing, foreign policy and other issues. As Governor, Kean had some degree of national recognition as the spokesperson for a New Jersey tourism commercial, in which he cited the state's tourism motto: "New Jersey and You: Perfect Together." With Johns' support, Kean also quickly established foreign policy and national security credentials following his Governorship that ultimately proved important in his gaining appointment by President George W. Bush to head the 9/11 Commission.

Beginning in 1990, Kean for the first time began expressing views on foreign policy and national security matters, views that generally mirrored those of the Republican Party. In a December 15, 1991 speech to the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., Kean endorsed the free trade initiatives under way by the administration of then-President George H. W. Bush. He also advocated continued U.S. aid to anti-communist resistance forces in Afghanistan, Angola, and to those engaged in supporting democratic change in the former Soviet Union. "To those supporting the Afghan resistance," Kean told the Heritage Foundation audience in 1991, "I say, carry on."[9]

Kean quickly was appointed to the boards of several important foreign policy bodies, including the U.S. government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which was heavily engaged in supporting democracy-building programs in former Eastern bloc and other nations around the world, and a Presidential advisory commission on a post-Castro Cuba, chaired by former U.S. Presidential Republican candidate Steve Forbes.

Several years later, in 1997, Kean was appointed as an Advisory Board member of President Clinton's One America Initiative, designed to help heal racial divides in the nation.

Heading the September 11 Commission

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda, political pressure grew for an independent commission to independently investigate why the attacks were not prevented by U.S. national security organizations, including the Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense, National Security Agency and others, and to provide recommendations for preventing future terrorist attacks.

Bush appoints Kean

The cover of the final 9/11 Commission report

Bush initially selected former Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger to head the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission). But on December 13, 2002, Kissinger resigned as the Commission's Chairman, under pressure because of potential conflicts with his global business consultancy.

Noting Kean's post-gubernatorial foreign policy involvement and his reputation as a consensus-oriented political leader, Bush nominated Kean to succeed Kissinger in leading the important and politically-sensitive Commission.[10] The Commission is widely considered the most important independent U.S. government commission since the Warren Commission, which was charged with investigating the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and perhaps the most important in American history given its mammoth responsibility for investigating the causes of the first foreign attack on the U.S. mainland since the War of 1812, and recommending steps to defend the U.S. from future attacks. Kean's appointment to head the Commission, and later the work and final report of the Commission, drew substantial global attention.

Criticisms of Kean's 9/11 Chairmanship

Just as some had criticized Kissinger's nomination, Kean's leadership of the Commission also drew some criticism. Some alleged that Kean did not have the depth of foreign policy and national security expertise needed to manage an investigation so integral to the future of American national security. Supporters of Kean in the Bush administration and elsewhere, however, countered that Kean's work since 1990 as a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the post-Castro Cuba Commission and his foreign policy and national security commentary and analysis following his Governorship established adequate national secrurity and foreign policy credentials for him to assume such a critically important assignment[11].

Once the Commission began its work, some critics argued that Kean, the Commission members, and the Commission staff almost all had various business and political conflicts that made it difficult to lay blame on their political allies. One prominent example was the Commission's Staff Director, Philip D. Zelikow, who had served on George W. Bush's Presidential transition team and had worked closely with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a key Commission witness, in the George H. W. Bush administration.

Kean has also been criticized for using his role as the chairman of the 9/11 Commission in order to make profit, such as his book, Without Precedent. Some also argue that his endorsement of the television movie, The Path to 9/11, was misguided. The film features some scenes which are known to be false, according to those involved and the official 9/11 Commission Report. Kean was also a paid consultant to the film and was credited as an executive producer.

Kean on bin Laden: "We had him"

In December 2003, Kean said that the September 11 attacks could have been prevented, stating: "As you read the report, you're going to have a pretty clear idea what wasn't done and what should have been done. This was not something that had to happen."[12]

On April 4, 2004, Kean again stated that the September 11 attacks could have been prevented, saying that the United States government should have acted sooner to dismantle al-Qaeda and responded more quickly to other terrorist threats. "When we actually saw bin Laden on the ground, using the Predator or other means, did we have...actionable intelligence? Should we have sent a cruise missile into a site where he was at that point? I think those early opportunities are clear. We had him. We saw him. I think maybe we could have done something about it."[13]

On July 22, 2004, the Commission issued its final report, the 9/11 Commission Report, which concluded that the CIA and the FBI had ill-served President Bush and the American people in failing to predict or prevent the September 11 attacks, which the report concluded was preventable.

Without Precedent

On August 15, 2006, a book by Kean and 9/11 Commission Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton, titled Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission, was released regarding the September 11 attacks and the September 11 Commission.[14]

In the book, Kean and Hamilton write that the 9/11 Commission was so frustrated with repeated misstatements by officials from The Pentagon and Federal Aviation Administration during their investigation that they considered a separate investigation into possible obstruction of justice by Pentagon and FAA officials[15].

ABC's The Path to 9/11

Kean served as a paid consultant and spokesman for the ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11, which aired nationally and without commercial interruption on September 10, 2006. On September 11, the second part of the miniseries aired, also without commercial interruption, with the exception of a 20-minute break at 9pm ET, when President Bush addressed the nation on the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

While not technically considered a documentary by ABC, prior to its airing, the series drew criticism for misrepresenting facts leading up the September 11 attacks. Many former high-ranking Clinton administration officials, including Clinton himself, and other scholars, publicly questioned the accuracy of the miniseries and asked that it not be aired. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the miniseries' portrayal of her "false and defamatory."[16] Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine also strongly criticized her character's portrayal, complaining in the Los Angeles Times about the "mythmakers" who created the film, calling the project "false."[17] The film depicts Clinton and his administration with being aloof in addressing the al-Qaeda threat, failing to intervene in ways that could have prevented the attack, and being too absorbed in the political dimensions of the Monica Lewinsky scandal to properly defend the nation's national security interests.

Kean defended the docudrama in July 2006 and until the eve of the broadcast, declining to disclose the amount of his payment from ABC for supporting the project.

July 2007 al-Qaeda video cites Kean comments on al-Qaeda's strength

On July 4, 2007, the terrorist group al-Qaeda publicly released a video, featuring its Deputy Chief Ayman al-Zawahri urging all Muslims to unite in a holy war against the U.S. in Iraq and elsewhere. The 95-minute video was discovered and released by U.S. intelligence sources and, in addition to al-Zawahri's comments, prominently featured video excerpts of Kean citing al-Qaeda as one of the most formidable security threats that the U.S. has ever confronted, presumably with the intention of bolstering the morale of al-Qaeda supporters through Kean's citation of the magnitude of the movement's strength and threat. Comments by Kean cited on the video include a reference to the fact that al-Qaeda remains as strong in 2007 as it was before the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The video also appeared to validate that al-Qaeda was closely monitoring U.S. political developments, especially including the work of the September 11 Commission, which Kean chaired. It also suggested that al-Qaeda intended to focus not just on engaging the West in Iraq, but also in other countries. "As for the second half of the long-term plan," al-Zawahri says on the video, "it consists of hurrying to the fields of Jihad like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia for Jihadi preparation and training."

Corporate boards

As of 2004, Kean was a member of a number of corporate board of directors, including ARAMARK, Hess Corporation, Pepsi Bottling Group, and major financial firms CIT Group Incorporated and Franklin Templeton Investments.[18]

Since 1993, Kean has also been on the board of UnitedHealth Group, a large health insurance firm. In 2006, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating the conduct of the company's management and directors. Additionally, the Internal Revenue Service and prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York subpoenaed documents from the company. The investigations came to light after a series of probing articles in The Wall Street Journal in May 2006, which reported on the apparent backdating of hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of stock options by UnitedHealth Group's management. The backdating allegedly occurred with the knowledge and approval of the directors, including Kean, who sat on the company's compensation committee during three crucial years, according to the Journal. Major shareholders have filed lawsuits accusing Kean and the other directors of failing in their fiduciary duty.[19][20]

In 2004, Kean's compensation from UnitedHealth Group alone was more than $650,000; in that year, as a corporate director, he missed more than a quarter of the company's board-related meetings.[18]


Kean and his wife Deborah have three children, a daughter, Alexandra, and identical-twin sons, Tom and Reed. They live in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. Kean's son, Tom, Jr., is a New Jersey State Senator and Minority Leader of the New Jersey Senate, representing New Jersey's 21st district. Kean Jr. was the Republican Senatorial nominee in the November 2006 general election, losing to Democrat Bob Menendez. The race was expected to be close, but Menendez won by a 9-point margin.

Kean is also a weekly columnist for the Star-Ledger, a Newark, New Jersey newspaper, where he and former New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne (his immediate predecessor as New Jersey Governor) address issues of the day in a column titled "Kean-Byrne Dialogue". Although both men sometimes disagree (as Kean is a Republican, while Byrne is a Democrat), they occasionally see eye to eye on topics, and both men have expressed great mutual respect for each other.

Kean is an advisor to, and has been inducted into, Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity.

Kean is a partner in Quad Partners, a private equity firm that invests in the education industry. [21]

On November 19, 2007, Kean endorsed John McCain for the 2008 presidential race. [22]


Kean University in Union Township, New Jersey, formerly located in Newark and named Newark State College and Kean College, is named in memory of Kean's father, Robert, who served New Jersey in the United States House of Representatives from 1939 to 1959. The land the university currently sits on was once owned by the Kean Family


  1. ^ Felzenberg, Alvin S. (2006). Governor Tom Kean. Rutgers University Press. p. 5. ISBN 9780813537993. "From the time James Kean arrived in South Carolina, the Keans took pains to retain the proper pronunciation of their name, which rhymes with rain rather than with green."  
  2. ^ Felzenberg, pp. 17, 26.
  3. ^ Sullivan, Ronald. "4 Democrats Give G.O.P. Jersey Assembly Control", The New York Times, January 12, 1972. Accessed May 20, 2009.
  4. ^ Sullivan, Joseph F. (1993-11-13). "Florio's Defeat Revives Memories of G.O.P. Activities in 1981". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-07.  
  5. ^ Smith, Glenn W. (2004). The Politics of Deceit: Saving Freedom and Democracy from Extinction. John Wiley and Sons. p. 124. ISBN 0471667633. Retrieved 2008-10-07.  
  6. ^ United States Congress (2004-10-05). "Maximizing Voter Choice". Library of Congress. p. 65. Retrieved 2008-10-07.  
  7. ^ Sullivan, Joseph F. "Shapiro Criticizes Party for Defeat", The New York Times, November 9, 1986. Accessed October 10, 2007.
  8. ^ "Reality Catches Up to a Utopian Legacy", The New York Times, November 15, 1999. Accessed June 14, 2008.
  9. ^ Kean, Thomas H. "A View from Outside the Beltway: Winning Policy . Themes for the, 1990s", The Heritage Foundation, December 15, 1991. Accessed August 7, 2007
  10. ^ *Statement by President George W. Bush on the appointment of Thomas Kean to Head 9/11 Commission, The White House, December 16, 2002.
  11. ^ Tom Kean Is Not A Household Name, Scoop Independent News, December 19, 2002
  12. ^ "9/11 Chair: Attack Was Preventable", CBS News, December 18, 2003.
  13. ^ Thomas Kean appearance, NBC, Meet the Press, April 4, 2004.
  14. ^ *Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission, by Thomas Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, Alfred A. Knopf, published 2006
  15. ^ Book: Sept. 11 Panel Doubted Officials, San Francisco Chronicle, August 4, 2006
  16. ^ "Clinton blasts 9/11 film, amid report of changes",, September 8, 2006
  17. ^ Barbara Bodine, "9/11 Miniseries Is Bunk", Los Angeles Times, September 8, 2006
  18. ^ a b Michael Brush, "Pay soars in the boardroom", moneycentral., December 16, 2005.
  19. ^ "A Board With Its Back To The Wall: UnitedHealth directors aren't ready to oust embattled CEO McGuire. Here's why", Business Week, July 10, 2006
  20. ^ Joe Conason, Jersey hustler: Why did former Gov. Kean, once a respected statesman, mislead the public and the press about the accuracy of ABC's 'Path to 9/11'?", magazine, September 15, 2006.
  21. ^ Quad Partners | About Us | The Team
  22. ^ Johnson, Glen (November 19, 2007). "Sept. 11 Panel Chairman Backs McCain". AP.  

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Barry T. Parker
Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly
1972 – 1973
Succeeded by
S. Howard Woodson
Preceded by
Brendan Byrne
Governor of New Jersey
January 19, 1982–January 16, 1990
Succeeded by
James Florio
Party political offices
Preceded by
Raymond Bateman
Republican Nominee for Governor of New Jersey
1981, 1985
Succeeded by
Jim Courter


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